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Tips for beginner cyclists

For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.

Buying a bike

The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a very good starting point for an entry level road bike.


  • I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike (£600) to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.

Continue Reading →


Is it OK to walk up hills?

PJ wrote an interesting post – Taking the bike for a walk

In response to a Guardian article – Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?

Since hill climbs are close to my heart – I can’t resist chipping in.

The truth is I’m torn between conflicting emotions.


The Rake – Photo Bob Muir

On the one hand is the hill climb chimp, with a thought process like:

> “It’s better to die on a hill than surrender and walk up. The modern generation is too soft with its compact chain sets and granny gears. We should recreate the hill climbs of old – 12kg steel bike, fixed gears and the one who gets furthest up the hill without falling off – wins. That’s proper cycling – not this modern, get off and walk if you feel like it nonsense.

The other chimp in me is the more reasonable, rational, politically correct version. Continue Reading →


Cycling and negativity

Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.


The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.


By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.

What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.


Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.

60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!

Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London. Continue Reading →


The universal appeal of cycling

I remember vaguely a few months ago, something about a local politician from  Birmingham (1) who said that cycling was the preserve of young adult men and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on cycling infrastructure because it only benefits a small percentage of the population. At the time I was too busy racing, but I made a mental note to write something about this later.

one-man-foot-squeezing-carIt can be hard work cycling on British roads

I’m probably three months late to state the obvious, but if the roads of a city are sparsely populated with cyclists – and predominantly middle age men – then it’s a very good sign that the opposite case needs to be made – It is a very good sign that a complete rethink is needed to encourage the broad section of society back into cycling.

You only get a skewed demographic of cycling – if the roads are perceived as too dangerous – making cycling appeal only to those who have different tolerations or risk, danger and dealing with intimidating situations.

The thing with cycling is that it is universal and democratic form of transport. It is cheap, accessible and at some point in time, most people have experienced some joy from learning to ride a bike. It is a shame, when this ceases to be the case.

In the US, this report states that the typical cyclists is a 39-year-old male professional with a household income in excess of $45,000 per year who rides 10.6 months per year.

  • In Europe, statistics for rates of female cycling as a % of cycling population are 45% Denmark, 55% in Netherlands, and 49% Germany, in the US  it is 25%.

Age differences

Another big difference is the age profile of people cycling:

Age profile cyclingSource: Cycling for Everyone at

In the US for people over 40, only 0.4% of trips are made by bicycle. In the Netherlands this rises to 23-24%


The only question is why do people stop cycling?

Statistically, you can make a good case cycling is still relatively safe. But if you have to fight traffic and heavy goods lorries, no amount of statistics can change the real perception that it’s a tough job cycling on many cities. Too many near misses, too much stress. Perhaps some people don’t want to cycle because of the way they drive.


watch out!

A very simple comparison is to look at countries which have built suitable cycling infrastructure – Germany, Holland, Denmark. In these countries, the demographic of cycling is spread across all ages and gender. Cycling is seen as safe; when there are good cycle paths, cycling is an extension of a pedestrian mode of transport. Pedestrians simply going a little bit faster. Continue Reading →


Winter miles

At the end of the hill climb season, you finish with great top end form, but the less exciting, base aerobic fitness has been given a bit of a back seat. Late October is not the time to be getting 5 hour slow, steady rides under the belt.

After a couple of quiet weeks, the top end form soon dissipates; or perhaps it’s just that you don’t have any motivation to see if you can still sprint up hills. Instead, my thoughts turn to all those miles I’ve been missing out on, and all the miles I need to be getting in.


I was born in a frankly pre-historic, last millennium type analogue era. It was a time before heart rate monitors, power meters, Strava and all these notions of efficient training. I was brought into cycling on the traditional Sunday Club run. At the end of the 12 hour, 110 mile ride, you would just put your feet up and stuffed your face with food – there was no logging on to see how you were digitally comparing.

The greatest excitement for measuring performance was the annual Cycling Weekly mileage double spreadsheet. I used to cut it out and put it on my wall. There was a simple target to fill in as many miles as you could. The more miles the better. This is what is now called ‘Old School Cycling‘ – but we were real men in those days, no indoor virtual races from the comfort of an internet connected roller ride. And I would rather Cycling Weekly kept publishing a paper mileage chart rather than these adverts for Ritmo – which, on principle I have no intention of ever trying to understand.


Anyway, grumpy old man ‘things were better in my day’ complaint over.

For no particular reason, I get to winter and generate a target to try and do 1,000 miles in each of the winter months – November, December, January and February. There is no good reason for this; no scientific basis that the key to a 4 minute hill climb in October is doing 4,000 miles in the preceding winter. But, it’s good to have a target, especially one where it doesn’t matter so much if you miss out a bit.

To be honest, 1,000 miles a month does requires quite a lot of discipline – especially as the nights draw in and the weather turns remorselessly colder and wetter. I don’t think I’ve ever managed 4,000 miles for the four winter months, but I’m sure if I can do it this year, the 2015 hill climb season will be my best ever….


80 miles down – 3,920 to go

After two weeks of testing the waters – nothing more than the odd 32 mile ride (even if they did take 2 and half hours). Yesterday was chance to go out for a proper winter training ride. Five hours of plodding a lonely furrow through the Cotswolds.

If winter miles can feel a bit like a chore at times, yesterday was one of those great days for cycling, where you are just grateful to be out in the perfect autumn weather. If winter training could always be like this…


November 10th. I’ve never seen so my flowers still out.

At 10 degrees, it was as good as it gets in mid-November. I took a meandering route to Bourton on the Water and Lower Slaughter; these have been voted the prettiest villages in England, and for good reason. It does make a refreshing change to be spending Sunday cycling through the late Autumn fall – rather than stopping off at a motorway station on the M6 after a brief 4 minutes of torture up some hill climb. I like the off-season – a reminder there’s more to cycling than racing. Continue Reading →


In praise of slow cycling

I was looking through my blog for posts of the past two months. It has been all about racing up hills or reviews of light-weight (and expensive) components. A very small niche of a sub branch of racing cycling. (Apologies if you have got bored of blog posts about weighing saddles and racing up steep hills). But, as well as being a racing cyclist, I’m also a commuter and cycle into Oxford every day.

The curious thing is that the more I’ve got into racing, the slower I’ve got on the commute into town. When I didn’t do proper races, I remember racing to and from work. It was all about speed. I think I may even have timed my commute home, and tried to beat my personal bests. – (A timetriallist in the making, if ever there was) But, as I’ve got more into racing, I’ve slowed down when cycling into town. I’ve not sure whether this is me getting older, needing more recovery time or just a different attitude.


I suppose it is a combination of factors, including:

  1. With racing at the weekend, I don’t have any smouldering competitiveness or fresh legs during the week. If you can ride at 30mph on a dual carriageway on a Sunday morning the desire for racing down Cowley road on Monday morning soon dissipates.
  2. Slow recovery rides are good for you. As I mentioned in previous post, I used to do recovery rides at 18mph, now I do them at 14mph. To get a real recovery ride, you need to really go properly slow – either full on hill intervals or proper recovery is the motto today.
  3. Patience is a virtue which is surprisingly enjoyable. In the past, when I got in any mode of transport, it was always a race against time. As a consequence, it was very easy to become frustrated at having to wait, getting held up or crawling along due to congestion. With this mindset of speed, you start to look for short cuts, the quick overtake, the dash through traffic. But, if you change your approach and try to enjoy the journey, it’s less stressful; you don’t feel guilty for standing still waiting for traffic to move. You just wait your turn.

With all the evangelical fervour of a converted sinner. I now get incredibly frustrated when motorists are similar impatient to overtake cyclists in dangerous manoeuvres – you always want to preach to the unconverted to tell them – if they could happily wait for the odd 10 seconds, it really doesn’t have to ruin their day. Take it easy, wait 10 seconds – and everyone’s happy.

Slow Cycling is good for you


So slow cycling is good for you. It makes you more considerate road user, but more importantly if you have a little more patience – you will enjoy the experience a lot more – if you give yourself an extra few minutes to get anywhere, you don’t have to squeeze through gaps which are really not advisable.

Continue Reading →


Do I need a new bike?


That’s the short answer, but if you ever need justification for buying a new bike –  these are some reasons to help you dip in the wallet and buy the new bike you deserve!

Of course, no real cyclist ever needs justification to buy a new bike, but this might be helpful for dealing with those family members who may not share the same understanding of the scientific and emotional benefits of the new 2015 Shimano Dura Ace di2 groupset.


Good reasons to get a new bike

  • Because manufacturers inform you this years model is 20% more rigid, 12% lighter, 7 % more aerodynamic and only 33% more expensive. If you buy, everyone’s a winner!
  • If you don’t buy a new bike, it means you will be riding a bike that is potentially slower than you could be riding. How painful is that thought?
  • Why spend all those hours training in the wet and cold when you could be getting the same marginal gains whilst sitting in the office doing overtime to pay for your new bike?!
  • Because there will definitely be someone on the start line of your race / cyclosportive /  Strava leaderboard – who will have that new bike. You wouldn’t expect Lewis Hamilton to turn up to a Formula One race, in a 1920s Ford Model T. You need the best to have a fair competition.
  • You need a cheap commuting bike to reduce the scare of getting your 33% more expensive new bike stolen. This is brilliant, You get a new bike that is so expensive, you have to get a cheaper bike to complement it. Two reasons for the price of one.
  • Cheaper than upgrades. If you took a bike apart and tried to buy the components separately, it would be twice as expensive.  If you find yourself buying a new component like a new stem or new pair of wheels, you might as well just go the whole hog and buy a new bike!
  • The last bike you will ever need. The next bike you buy is so good, it will be the last bike you ever need. Manufacturers have been making bikes stiffer, lighter and more aero for years. But, this technological progress has to stop sometime. If you buy a bike, bike manufacturers are likely to say ‘that’s it, bikes can’t get better than this. (P.S. I have bought seven ‘last ever bike I will need’)
  • New bike gives new inspiration. There is a great feeling in riding a new immaculate bike. If you’re struggling with inspiration to train, buy a new bike and the next week of training will be really high quality because you are so happy to be riding a new bike. Admittedly, a weekly new bike could be stretching even the most enthusiastic resources of the most ardent ‘buy a new bike’ type person. You should save this for desperate times like the middle of winter.


  • Because it looks good. Who said a new bike needs to be faster? It’s not as if you’re going to win an important race anyway. Bikes are all about looks. That 1980s Colnago C50 will have plenty heads turning on the club run, and if that’s not worth taking out a £5,000 loan – what is?

Poor excuses not to get a new bike


Bike in house. A kind of modern art.

  • There isn’t room in the shed. This is a very poor excuse. There is always room to accommodate a new bike. Who said bicycles have to be stored in the garage? Take down your David Hockney from your living room, and in its place put your new living modern art (aka – your new Colnago) on the wall. In this way you’ve killed three birds with one stone:
    • You have a motivation to clean the bike after every  ride
    • You have joined the modern art movement of spending a lot of money on the unexpected!
    • You have your new bike!
      If all else fails, you could always consider selling an old bike. But, this is really a last resort, because it’s much better to accumulate an ever increasing number of bikes.
  • You haven’t got the money In the days of Wonga, credit cards and quantitative easing, there’s always money somewhere. Your granny may have told you money doesn’t grow on trees, but if the UK can have a national debt of £1,432.3 billion and Q.E. of £350bn money creation, do you not think you deserve a very small extension of credit for helping the economic recovery? Think of it as expansionary fiscal policy – any good Keynesian economist will tell you that your consumer spending is a selfless act for the greater good.
  • Family unconvinced. This is slightly tricky – your partner is not convinced that you need a 12th bike when the last family holiday was a budget hotel in Skegness in 2009. But, still with a new bike – every day is a holiday. All we need is that 12th bike and we will become a beacon of happiness and cheerfulness (until the next seasons models come out) – so everyone is a winner really. Note the emphasis on shared ownership. You may ride the bike, but really it belongs to everyone.

Continue Reading →


Women in cycling


La Course 2014 – photo by Liakada flickr

Helped by the Olympic success of female cyclists, women’s cycling has been on the up in recent years. The great thing about the Olympics is that a gold medal is a gold medal. Whether you’re a £250,000 a week professional footballer or a privately supported amateur, one Olympic gold medal is the same value as another gold medal – that is a wonderful equalising force. For many years, the Olympics didn’t allow women to run in events longer than 1,500m – though that kind of ‘perceived wisdom’ – all seems a bit embarrassingly outdated now. In cycling up until 2012, there were fewer Olympic events for women. Often situations, such as this are for no particular reason, except that is how it has happened in the past. But, the Olympic movement has moved on and has perhaps unwittingly become one of the strongest forces for promoting equality in sport between men and women. It has certainly helped boost professional women’s cycling in Britain.

I’ve been cycling (mostly time trials) for the past 8 years, and never really given much thought to women’s cycling. Women are generally a minority in time trials – perhaps making 10% of the field on a good day. But, this year I’ve noticed a shift to reconsider certain things. And it generally seems a progressive change.


One of the strange things about the time trials is lumping results of men and women together. 1st, 2nd and 3rd women deserve more appreciation than mid table anonymity of 45th overall or something. For me time trials are not just about time. I do like to see how I compare against my peers. It would be a big de-motivation if my placing in the final results felt rather random. This is particularly important for national championships. e.g. National Hill Climb Championship 2013 results. The Women’s champion Maryka Sennema (Kingston Wheelers) is listed only in the middle of the overall (63rd). In my blog, I did try to pick out the top women. It should be like this 100 Mile 2014  Women’s results. Hopefully, the CTT will do this for future hill climb championships. Continue Reading →


Everesting Great Dun Fell

In the latest Cycling Weekly, the main feature was on ‘Britain’s Latest Climbing Craze’ – Everesting. If you haven’t heard of Everesting, it is a challenge which involves cycling up and down a hill until you have completed the height gain of Mount Everest – 8.848 metres – that’s 14 times Great Dun Fell, 30* Hardknott Pass and 128* Swains Lane. Amongst other British riders, Laurie Lambeth was mentioned for everesting Great Dun Fell, and only a short while later, Everesting Hardknott Pass. Three weeks after Hardknott he managed his third Everest (an off road challenge) in 160 miles and 17 hours, which Laurie mentioned  ‘…it was a bit of a struggle’.


Great Dun Fell and Hardknott Pass are two of England’s most iconic climbs – and in their own way perhaps the hardest too. To Everest both is an impressive feat and just slightly mad into the bargain – just the kind of thing we like at

When I first heard of Everesting this summer, I nearly ditched all my plans to do the National 100 and plan carefully for the National Hill Climb. It just sounded such a cool thing to do. Well, there’s always time, but it seems British hills are going pretty quick – If you want to be the first to everest the hill of your choice, get training!

Thanks to Laurie for sharing his great report on the day of cycling up Great Dun Fell.

Everesting Great Dun Fell

by Laurie Lambeth

I first heard about “Everesting” on an internet forum around the beginning of June 2014. The idea instantly caught my imagination, 29,029ft of ascent in one single ride! Was this madness or genius? I decided either way I had to find out.

I live up in the North Pennines in a small village called Nenthead. Nenthead is an old mining village sitting at around 1,400ft, it is surrounded by hills, lots and lots of hills! It can be a cyclist’s heaven or maybe even hell depending on what you like? Luckily for me it’s the former.

I set about picking my Everesting hill. It didn’t take me long to decide I wanted to try and be the first to “Everest” Great Dun Fell and claim the highest road in England at 2,785ft. I’d ridden the fell once before, a tough experience in howling wind and so much fog I couldn’t even see the huge golf ball looking radar station that sits on the very top!


The hill climbs up 4.6 miles, it has an average gradient of 8% and in places kicks up to over 20%, by the time you reach the top you will have climbed around 2,070ft. For a successful Everest the hill would need to be climbed 15 times, this would total 140 miles and pass the 29,029ft target. This challenge would mean riding further, higher and for longer than anything I’d done before.

Whilst out on a Sunday training ride a few weeks after hearing about the challenge, I heard a rumour that I wasn’t the only one eyeing up Great Dun Fell for an Everest attempt. In fact I was told two people were attempting it that very same day! Thinking I might have missed my chance, I kept I close eye on the Everesting website for any new entries… two days passed but nothing appeared. The hill was still up for grabs, although with the extra interest, claiming it had now become a race against time.

Tuesday 24th June, Forecast looks ok for Thursday, not perfect but hopefully good enough to have a go. Thursday 26th I’m up at 5am and on my way to Knock at the bottom of Great Dun Fell. I park up at the bottom of the hill and waste no time getting kitted up. 6.30am I start the Garmin and it’s time to go…

Continue Reading →


French Cycling Terms

It is not often the British feel proud and happy to imitate and revere our French brothers across the channel. But, cycling is one of those rare situations when we can happily pay homage to the influence of France and the French. No matter how much cycling success the British may have enjoyed in recent years, the French and Italians will always have a certain élan, missing from Anglo-Saxon cycling. To gain your stripes as a real cyclist you need to master, at least, a smattering of French terms.


No stereotypes of the French please. Flickr photo – brizzlebornandbred


It will certain be a curious mix when die hard Yorkshireman welcome ‘Le Tour’ in a few weeks. “Aye Lad, they could do with a few pints of ale in the grupetto‘ Maybe it would have been more useful to give a list of terms from the Yorkshire dialect. In a few weeks, many European diligently learning the Queen’s English may be furiously flicking through their French-English dictionary  – mystified as to why so many words aren’t there.

The influence of the French on Cycling

Which would you rather join?

Rotherham Wheelers v South Yorkshire Vélo

Rotherham Wheelers raises connotations of mugs of tea for 30 pence in a cafe off the A87 after your 6am Sunday morning time trial. South Yorkshire Vélo raises connotations of gleaming Campagnolo and immaculate Italian bikes. (yes, French club, but Italian bikes – I guess all Europeans are the same really)

If you want to be cool in cycling, the farthest you can get from Britain the better. I know Team Sky have done the best to challenge this historical truth. They have this extremely un British habit of being successful and professional. It even looks like the French have, temporarily, become the plucky losers, a mantle they picked up from the old British style. But, no matter how many marginal gains Team Sky make, France will always be the spiritual home of cycling, in a way the British Isles will never be able to.


Them are real mountains in France

If you want to prove you are a real cyclist, without being any good at cycling. There are two things you can try to do.

  • You can shave your legs
  • You can drop in French words with disarming regularity into your cycle chat.

This may sound a little contrived, but it will definitely impress your fellow riders to spend a few hours wheelsucking on the back.

‘He was a real grimpeur, but he forgot his musette and bidon and ended up in the Voiture Balai after bonking on the unforgiving Virage’s of the Geant de Provence Mont Ventoux.’

‘The patron of the peleton excelled at the contra le Monde, but…’

So here is a list of French Cycling Terms:

French Cycling Terms

  • un autobus – group that rides together to finish within time limit
  • un commissaire –  referee who makes decisions about race. E.g. allowing a bigger time limit to avoid eliminating whole autobus.
  • un coureur  –  rider, cyclist
  • un cycliste – cyclist
  • un directeur sportif – manager
  • un domestique  – support rider, often carrying bottles for leader
  • un échappé – breakaway
  • une équipe – team
  • un grimpeur – climber
  • un grupeto – same as autobus
  • un peloton – main bunch of riders, near front of race
  • un poursuivant – chaser
  • un rouleur –  smooth and steady rider
  • un soigneur – rider’s assistant
  • un sprinteur – sprinter
  • la tête de course – leader

Cycling Styles

  • à bloc – riding all out, as hard and fast as possible
  • la cadence – pedalling rhythm, often referring to high cadence
  • chasse patate – riding between two groups (literally, “potato hunt”)
  • la danseuse – standing up
  • Souplesse – riding with good style, pedalling a high cadence giving impression of making it look easy.


  • un bidon – water bottle
  • un casque – helmet
  • une crevaison –  flat, puncture
  • un dossard – number on rider’s uniform
  • un maillot  -jersey
  • maillot jaune – yellow jersey.
  • une musette – feed bag
  • un pneu  -tire
  • un pneu crevé – flat tire
  • une roue – wheel
  • un vélo de course – racing bike
  • une voiture balai – broom wagon

Tracks and Courses

  • une borne – kilométrique ~milestone (literally, a kilometre marker)
  • un col-  mountain pass
  • une côte – hill, slope
  • une course – race
  • une course par étapes – stage race
  • une descente – descent
  • une étape – stage
  • la flamme rouge – red marker at 1 kilometre from finish
  • hors catégorie – beyond classification (extremely difficult mountain)
  • une montagne – mountain
  • une montée-  upward slope
  • un parcours – route, course
  • une plaine – plains, flat land
  • une piste  – track
  • une route-  road

Standings and Scoring

  • la bonification – bonus points
  • une chute – fall, crash
  • le classement  – standings
  • contre la montre  – time trial
  • la lanterne rouge – last rider
  • le maillot à pois – polka dot jersey (worn by best climber)
  • le maillot blanc – white jersey (worn by best rider under 25)
  • le maillot jaune – yellow jersey (worn by overall leader)
  • le maillot vert – green jersey (worn by leader in points / best sprinter)


  • accélérer to accelerate
  • s’accrocher à to cling, hang on to
  • attaquer to attack, spurt ahead
  • changer d’allure to change pace
  • changer de vitesse to shift gears
  • courir to ride
  • dépasser to overtake
  • déraper to slip, skid
  • s’échapper to break away
  • grimper to climb
  • prendre la tête to take the lead
  • ralentir to slow down
  • rouleur to ride at a steady / strong pace. A rouleur – is traditionally a strong rider, who is good on the flat, but tends to disappear in the mountains.


How far do we take the French language?

Everyday I go to a coffee shop and I’m confronted with this awful dilemma.

If I want a pain au chocolate? do you use a broad Yorkshire accent and pronounce it like it’s written? or do we have to order ‘the pain au chocolate’ with our best imitation of a real French accent, you picked up from 5 years of GCSE French lessons?

The existential angst of deciding how to pronounce often leaves me ordering the ‘chocolate thing’ No messing, just two solid English words. If I do try order, a ‘pain au chocolate’ I tend to pronounce the first word in French, but by the third word have descended into English – a kind of unsatisfactory compromise.